The Original Carter Family playing and
singing group was made up of three people, A.P. Sara, and Maybelle. The style of the
Carters was comprised of two parts which blended to make the total effect first, the
intricate use of the guitar as a lead instrument ( which was an innovation at time of
their beginning), and second, the vocal harmonies.
Alvin Pleasant Delaney "Doc"
Carter the oldest of eight children, was born to Robert and Molly Bays Carter on December
15, 1891, A.P.s father was a banjo player and he met his future wife, Molly, at a
square dance. After their marriage, he gave up the instrument, as he gave up many worldly
ways because of his religious views. Often times mountain musicians, upon conversion would
began playing religious music only, but in case of A.P.s father, he gave up the
For her part, Molly Carter brought into
the family many old ballads down that had been handed down for years and years, songs like
SAILOR BOY, and SINKING IN THE LONESOME SEA which the Carter Family would later record.
A.P. Carter spent a year in Indiana
working on a railroad gang near Richmond. A soldier of fortune and a jack of all trades,
he often traveled far and wide seeking his fortune. He made his home wherever he found it,
but his heart was really on Clinch Mountain Virginia. He returned to his mountain home in
1911 and began selling fruit trees for a living, but during his years away from the hills
of Virginia, A.P. had begun writing songs about his life as he knew it back at his Clinch
Early Publicity Photograph
On one of his many trips around area
selling fruit trees, he met Sara Dougherty, born July 18, 1898, According to the family
legend, she was singing ENGINE ONE FORTY THREE and playing the autoharp at the time they
met. Although A.P. and Sara had known one another earlier, the autoharp meeting flowered
into the beginning of a courtship, and later into marriage on June 18, 1915, almost from
the beginning they made music around their household at Maces Springs, Virginia.
learned to play the autoharp from EB Easterland and purchased her instrument from one of
the mail order companies, the autoharp was a very popular instrument of the day. A.P.
played the fiddle, as he continued to do throughout his life, although every time he
apologized for his lack of ability. During the early years of their marriage, A.P. and
Sara sang and played in home groups and at churches. To supplement his income as a
nurseryman, A.P. farmed and did blacksmith work and carpentry.
A.P. and Sara Carter were a striking
couple both of them tall, strong, thoroughbred looking mountain stock. A.P. Carter was
said to have had a personal magnetism that was remarkable. His presence filed the room,
someone once said. He was a kind, gentle person, but full of fire when angered. Sara was a
strikingly beautiful woman, a proud lady with head erect and shoulders straight, and with
eyes that seemed to look right through you. Her voice was strong and pure, the beauty of
the Appalachian dialect was never so enflowered as in the voice of Sara Carter.
The Third member of the group was cousin
Maybelle Addington, born on May 10, 1909. She was a little child when Sara and A.P.
married, but with her ability on the autoharp, banjo, and guitar,she was the pride of the
Addington clan and was quickly noticed by the Carters as she came into local scene. As she
grew up and assumed her role in the homemade music world of Scott County, Virginia her
musical prowess was the talk of the county. No one could pick it like Maybelle Addington,
they would say, or " Honey, I hope you can learn to pick that thing little Maybelle
Addington can. In 1926 she married A.P.s brother Ezra, and the Carter Family was complete.
They had played together a good deal in the past, but with the addition of Maybelle at
Maces Springs the availability of all members to practice was greater.
Revised: September 02, 2007